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Movie Rundowns: “Running” starring Michael Douglas

Movie Rundowns: “Running” starring Michael Douglas
Jason Halpin

For those of you who listen to the podcast, over the past couple months I’ve been reviewing some of the “best” running movies according to random websites lists and listener suggestions. In my most recent attempt, I watched Across the Tracks, the 1990 Brad Pitt movie and didn’t so much review it as I completely broke down the entire movie. See Episode 158 around the 62-minute mark if you haven’t heard it, (You will completely regret it). Basically, I talked far too long but had such a good time doing it that I decided to try and write up my completely spoiler loaded “reviews” instead.

So for my first installment of what I’ll tentatively call “Movie Rundowns” I’m watching the 1979 classic Running with Michael Douglas as Michael Andropolis. Apparently it’s a pretty rare find, but you can get it in nine parts on YouTube in a quality that is slightly lower than most hostage videos. In case you have a ton of time to kill, I will break this classic down with each clip accompanying my rambling.

Part 1 of 9

We start off with a skyline shot of New York and a baby crying as we zoom in trying to set the scene that our hero lives in a bad part of town. And there’s our protagonist Michael getting ready for work as he’s putting on a suit…but wait he’s also putting on running shoes…and he starts to run?…Ok then.

Another gem with this movie is the Spanish subtitles. Not many people know that this film sparked the running boom in Latin America that eventually produced New York City Marathon champion German Silva.

Michael is still running but now the suit jacket is tied around the waist and his tie has turned into a headband. I really hope he only runs in a suit during this movie. Ok, he’s met up with his daughter as he runs alongside her bike on the way to school…still not explaining the suit. But he does mention he has a plan to get back together with his wife–he is going to run in the Olympics! Ladies do love that…

Part 2 of 9

Michael runs into work, where he’s a shoe salesman. Apparently, he left his running stuff in the back and that’s why he ran in a suit. That makes sense–he’s training for the Olympics and only owns one pair of shorts and one t-shirt, but also somehow remembered just his shoes? And we’ve already established he runs to work, so how did he get home the day before?! Maybe I’m over thinking this.

Everything is redeemed in the next amazing scene where we find out Michael’s boss is firing him because, “I’ve come to the conclusion that shoes aren’t your life, running shoes maybe but don’t you think you’d be better off doing something you like?” Is this a secret of the footwear industry that everyone who is in it has decided that shoes are their life? I didn’t realize the level of commitment it took to work in a shoe store. Must be why things never worked out for Al Bundy.

After a rough day he cracks open a beer when he gets home…but you’re training for the Olympics Mike! There’s a knock on the door, and it’s young Eugene Levy! With an Afro! He’s the divorce lawyer and he’s not being funny at all. Is this what he was like before the 90′s? I really hope we get some more information on him later and find out he’s the same character from the American Pie movies. Apparently Michael’s wife wants to divorce him because she thinks it will be better for him even though they both love each other and have kids…good call lady.

We find out his event is the marathon during a scene where he’s trying to figure out if he made the Olympic Trials or not. Yeah, he goes into a building and asks the lady sitting at the desk if he was invited to the Olympic Trials. Is this how things were handled back then? Did Athletics Kenya run our trials in 1976? Then, meets his old coach and there’s definitely something amiss but then the picture cuts out and we are at the next scene! No clue how much I missed…

Part 3 of 9

After being fired from his shoe-selling job for not embracing the life, Michael goes to the unemployment office where the rudest people in the history of the world work. I’m not kidding; he gets lectured for not bringing his own pencil to fill out forms. After a lady takes her break while a long line waits Michael loses it, calls her fat and he’s a hero to all who are unemployed! Then he goes running again, still no running clothes though.

He makes his way to a car dealership, which is owned by his wife’s boyfriend, and asks for a job. That shouldn’t be awkward for anyone. Howard (car dealership guy) decides to throw him a bone and gives him a job washing cars. Then, Michael asks his almost divorced wife out on a date and she says yes, definitely no mixed signals going on here. They go on a date where they walk through the park and romantic music is playing and everything is grand in the world. Could anything get any better?

Part 4 of 9

And it just got better! We get the scene that happens in 90% of PG-13 movies; a kiss cutting to post-sleeping together, sheet pulled up, covering everyone. Michael uses this opportunity to ask if she’s been sleeping with Howard (car dealership guy)…great pillow talk Mike! They get into a fight and resolve it almost immediately. I really need to take this opportunity to recognize Susan Anspach for her acting in the movie as Mike’s wife…genuinely awful performance.

It’s trials time! We find out the tension between Mike and his coach stems from Mike’s failure to show up for the Pan Am Games the day of the race 10 years ago because he got so nervous he was afraid of failure…sounds like Asafa Powell.

Part 5 of 9

And the race is off! Mike is running from the front and starting to gap the field a little bit and the former coach looks pissed he’s running so well. But here comes the pack and now we have probably the closest marathon in history as there are still 10+ guys right next to each other with less than a mile to go and none of them appear to be Frank Shorter. In the last quarter mile, he gets passed by three guys and finishes 4th, feels like Without Limits all over again. After the race the coach said he quit down the stretch and could have won, not sure that makes sense at all but the 3rd place guy gets a stress fracture in his leg so Michael gets to go to the Olympics! Hooray stress fractures!

In a classy move, Mike goes to the hospital to visit the injured runner and bring him some flowers (couldn’t find some magazines or something?) and tells him that he beat him and he’s the better man. Basically the exact opposite of everything Ezekiel Kemboi would do.

Part 6 of 9

So Mike gets to go to the Olympics and everyone is very proud. He runs both his daughters to school the next day and all the elementary/ middle school kids laugh and make fun of the fact that someone is running. This might be the most accurate part of the movie. But then they hold an assembly and announce he made the Olympic team and everyone forgets about ridiculing running and now loves it! We even get a Rocky style running scene where all the neighborhood kids join him for a run and the song even sounds a little like Gonna Fly Now…I hope he dusts them all like Stallone did.

Michael goes to work the next day and the car dealer owner wants him to be the face of his dealership but Michael doesn’t want that because he wants to coach kids after the Olympics. Why one effects the other is beyond me, but he says no anyway because it would be a shame to make some extra money you could save and put toward your kids or training or even a second pair of running clothes!

Part 7 of 9

This next scene kind of feels like a…yeah I’m pretty sure…it is! MONTAGE!! Running, sit ups, running, playing with kids, sit ups, running, staring out a window, washing cars, running, getting his Olympic uniform…All of this with no talking but a musical interlude over everything! It was a little short for my tastes, but damn did I enjoy it.

He calls his wife and asks to see her before he leaves for Montreal (we figured out which Olympics it was!) and he professes his love for her and she says that Howard (car dealership guy) wants to marry her! Heartbreaking…but we do get this exchange.

Michael: “I guess there’s not much reason for me to be hanging around here anymore is there?”
Janet: “I guess not.”

Yeah no reason at all…EXCEPT FOR YOUR TWO KIDS!!!

We’re in Montreal and Michael goes on a run where it looks like that first cut scene from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out where it’s just missing the fat coach on a bike and the pink jumpsuit…and the Statue of Liberty, but it’s still close! Then, he sees a big cross on top of a big hill/mountain and for some reason is completely drawn to it and starts running up it like in Rocky IV! Just missing the snow and a Russian competitor training with superior equipment…what’s that? I don’t need to reference another movie or video game with every scene? Gotcha.

Part 8 of 9

His wife comes to visit him at the Olympic village and says win or lose she loves him and is coming home with him. This relationship is more hot and cold than that Katy Perry song (See I can do music references too!).

Olympic opening ceremonies time! We get the releasing of the doves and lighting the torch and…that’s it? No acrobatics? Fire dancers? Was the opening ceremony not always a Cirque de Soleil show? I like it.

Marathon time! I wonder which way they take this thing, does he take first and it’s all glory or is the lesson just finishing is the most important thing? Early in the race one of the Americans pulls up with a knee injury and he’s out of the race so America’s best hope for a medal is done…OR IS IT?! Michael, known for being a front-runner, decides to sit at the back of the lead pack to change up his strategy a little bit. And the announcer is doing some major foreshadowing here about the triumph of finishing….

Part 9 of 9

At the 16 mile mark Michael makes his move! This certainly has been left to the fastest 10 miler, Michael Andropolis believes it’s him…

They keep cutting to the video board inside the stadium. I thought the video quality on the movie was bad, but the board looks like it’s covered in the worst Instagram filter ever. Michael opens up a 50 meter lead very quickly after making his move and it looks like this race is all his, what could possibly go wrong?!

Oh no! Something went wrong!

Coming around a turn he looks over his shoulder and trips and falls into the gutter! This is why you don’t look over your shoulder. Everyone in the race passes him and he’s still in the gutter and then the announcer tells everyone he’s out of the race…I feel a Cool Runnings type ending coming.

They show the finish and someone named Bill Matley of Canada wins the race (makes sense, Canada has always been a marathon powerhouse) and the remaining American finishes 2nd…still no Frank Shorter. Michael is still literally laying in the gutter for what has to be close to an hour. They seem to imply that he can hear the announcer but I’m not sure how that’s possible.

Now hours later, they are showing highlights of other events on TV until we cut to cars honking at someone in the middle of the street. Who would be in the middle of the road at this time of…My God! It’s Michael! He appears to have a dislocated shoulder and is roughed up pretty good, but now the TV networks have picked it up and crowds have started to gather. Michael’s wife even wakes the kids with a, “Andy, Suzy you awake? Your daddy’s still running” that shows almost no emotion at all. She’s putting on a clinic of terrible acting.

It’s a battle of will and Michael can barely stay on his feet and now he actually looks possessed by the devil. This is starting to freak me out. He’s literally bouncing off people. With no concept of how much Michael has left in the race the announcer says, “He did it!” From everything I can tell he is still outside on a road somewhere and every other runner finished on the track inside the stadium…I’m confused.

Oh, and that’s it. They literally do the freeze frame ending moments after he crosses the “finish line.” Ok, I can live with that ending but how did I watch the whole thing and didn’t even see the part from our podcast intro.

-What are you into these days?
-Mostly running Howard.
-Running?
-Yeah.

Was that the part that got skipped? Well, not in this 10 minute tribute video to the movie! More Running! (4:10 mark)

Final thoughts

It was a pretty enjoyable movie, and on the Runner/Not a Runner scale I’d say it safely falls into the “Runner movie” category. It’s definitely similar to Across the Tracks in a lot of ways where there is enough unintentional comedy to get you through. So whether you are training for the Olympic marathon or you get fired from your shoe salesman job for not embracing the life, it’s worth 90 minutes over 9 parts of your time.

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